Heavy cloud cover and the forecast of isolated showers and a possible thunderstorm does little to dampen the enthusiasm of over 400 teams in this year’s Urban Max Sydney held by Maximum Adventure. These are the guys who run a variety of very challenging fitness events throughout the year including the Coastal Classic (which nearly killed me back in September) and the infamous Mud Run (which, according to my wife who has survived it, is “the most fun you can have with your clothes on”).
For those unfamiliar with the format of the Urban Max, think The Amazing Race: teams of two + cryptic clues + multiple checkpoints + urban orienteering + quirky challenges galore + scavenger hunt + brain teasers. Too easy, right?
A choice of categories: racing (14 checkpoints) or social (10 checkpoints) encourages not only the gung-ho super-keen fitness fanatics but also the more sedate pram-pushing families to enjoy the day doing something other than shopping. The bonus of one less checkpoint if we pre-purchase the NBCF (National Breast Cancer Foundation) option is a no-brainer and a very worthy cause!
As we gather at Wentworth Park in Ultimo for our brief briefing we size-up the formidable competition. We don’t think for a minute we’re going to win this thing but we’re sure-as-hell gonna give it our best shot!
Before the gun can even sound it’s a mad scramble across the green to the volunteers distributing the clue sheets. We then spend the next 1/2 hour or so working them all out. We figure the more information we have the easier it’ll be to map an optimal route to 13 of the available 20 checkpoints. With the help of a “phone-a-friend”, the Internet and Google Maps the world is at our fingertips.
We’re told that one checkpoint won’t be revealed until 10am leaving us with 5 others we can ignore. The golf course looks a bit lonely out at Moore Park as does the one near Sydney University. And we (incorrectly) assume the “King of Hearts” is to be found near the Star Casino figuring we could possibly collect it later. The National Maritime Museum doesn’t open anytime soon narrowing our options some more.
With a plan to tackle the City first, then North Sydney and back to Surry Hills and Paddington, we sprint through Darling Harbour towards Circular Quay to collect the “cannon” checkpoint. Close-by is the Nurses Walk at The Rocks where we search for “Captain Cook” who, when we spot her, runs off. Nothing like a game of cat-and-mouse to get the blood pumping!
Another dash to the park near the Garrison Church to put together a wooden puzzle gives us a chance to catch our breath but before we know it we’re off again: up the hill, through the tunnel, under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, up the stairs, onto the footpath and across the bridge.
Next stop is Luna Park in Milsons Point where we hurriedly tie balloons to form a sword or two, much to the excitement of passing children who receive some cute mementos. To be honest, our efforts look more like pathetic daggers than two-handed great-swords but fortunately we’re given the benefit of the doubt.
Lavender Bay beckons with the GPS co-ordinates provided landing us in Watt Park. We like how the name ties in nicely with the clue about “lights” and “searching in the dark” but we (and many, many others like us) are struggling to find this checkpoint, endlessly walking around in circles but to no avail. However, I remember there’s another, smaller park up the hill so we head off in that direction and eventually manage to stumble through the “obstacle course” challenge blind-folded. Phew!
Blues Point Tower is next on the agenda and we’re greeted by people stripping off. You could be mistaken for thinking that the challenge is R-rated. Alas, all we have to do is kayak in the harbour. A wonderful opportunity to “cool off” as we tackle the choppy waves at MacMahon’s Point.
Back on dry land and scurrying up the hill to the MLC Building whilst checking my train timetable app we see the next train to Central is in several minutes – assuming they’re running to schedule.
A stroke of luck! We arrive with a couple of minutes to spare. The journey allows us to gather our wits and map the second half of our itinerary.
With eight checkpoints under our belt it’s off to Surry Hills and the challenge to name a few Coldplay songs is hardly daunting given that I’ll be attending their concert in a few hours. Thankfully we don’t have to sing! The “fish shop” is only a stone’s throw away and naming a handful of fish is child’s play as we then leg it to Paddington.
The “pump” could have proved elusive yet it’s outside the Victoria Barracks making life easier. Up the hill to “2XU” where I’m tempted to purchase some elite racing gear. But there’s no time to spare as we have to pose for photographs and sign autographs at the EJ Ward Community Centre.
We hop on a bus to Elizabeth St in order to conserve energy as we still have to get back to the finish line. The “mystery” checkpoint just happens to be on our way home but little do we realise it involves “Bollywood” dancing. I do hope they don’t “tag” those pictures on facebook: not a pretty sight!
Getting there involves a sprint through Chinatown and Tumbalong Park at break-neck speed. The pedestrians have no idea what’s going on as we a shout warnings that we’re “coming through!”
In the back of our minds is the concern that we may have missed a “beep” at one of the earlier checkpoints so to be on the safe side my sidekick, Jim, runs to the final checkpoint to “eat a snail” for the team. Better him than me! Personally, I would have gone the “quiz” option.
Collapsing across the finish line we know we did OK yet there’s the inevitable chat about what could have been done better. Should we have ignored a certain checkpoint? How did we not guess the “card” clue – it was so obvious? And “if only we had got off the bus one stop earlier”.
I suppose it gives us an incentive to do even better next year!
Lots of fun and a terrific way to experience the great outdoors in this beautiful city of ours whilst exercising. What could be better than that?
A big “thank you” to the clever organisers, the helpful volunteers, the generous sponsors, the willing participants, and my quick-thinking fleet-footed team mate, Jamie. Well done!
Kim | Team asterisk